A few months ago, I read and loved Deafening. I immediately put a hold on Tell at the library and waited impatiently for it to arrive.
Tell continues the lives of some of the characters from where we left them in Deafening. It is right after WWI, the soldiers are arriving home, most of them changed forever. Kenan has lost the use of his left arm and half of his face is covered in scars. He and his wife, Tress, attempt to find a new normal for themselves and for their marriage. Am and Maggie have been married for 25 years, have grown apart, and neither of them quite knows what to do to repair the damage.
Tell is quietly told, character-driven, and rich in detail. These elements are what keep the pages turning. It is easy to see pieces of ourselves and others in these characters from almost 100 years ago. In their stories, we see that life goes on; it moves forward, despite the setbacks and horrors of war, illness, death, and grief. Many sad things have happened to these people, but overall there is a feeling of hope. Hope is found in the details; of intimate conversation between partners, of letters from friends, of friends who allow you to be who you are, of the wounded soldier leaving his house for the first time, of visits with family and the birth of new babies.
“When we find caring, when we know there is love,… we hold on. We hold on as long as we can.”
This isn’t the book to read if you are looking for a fast-paced plot or complicated storyline. But, if you appreciate the details of everyday life and the lives of ordinary people with pasts, secrets, and sorrows who are trying to live and be happy, then I would recommend this book.
Kim says it so well in her review at Reading Matters, that I couldn’t resist quoting her:
Tell is a lovely, quietly devastating book that focuses on small moments but never loses sight of the bigger picture: that we must all take responsibility for our actions; that life, despite its many challenges, heartaches and sorrows, is what we make of it; and that failing to deal with the past can sometimes come back to haunt us in unforeseen and tragic ways.
Tell was a finalist for the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize. It is Frances Itani’s 14th book. You can read an interview with Frances Itani where she talks about why she wrote Tell, the best advice on writing she’s ever been given, and which fictional characters she would like to be.